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Delivering Reconnaissance With U-2 Dragon Lady
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Juliana Londono
March 27, 2023

Semper Paratus (always ready) makes up the 9th Reconnaissance Wing’s mantra. The 9th RW at Beale AFB is one of twelve units in the Sixteenth Air Force that falls under Air Combat Command. The mission here is to deliver persistent, integrated reconnaissance to the nation, largely in part to the U-2S Dragon Lady.

The U-2, a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, flies at altitudes over 70,000 feet to provide critical imagery to meet intelligence needs of combatant commanders during any phase of peacetime or conflict.

January 25, 2023 - U.S. Air Force civilian Joshua Smith, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 instructor pilot, drives a chase car on the flightline at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Chase car drivers communicate with the pilot through radio to ensure a safe landing. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juliana Londono.)
January 25, 2023 - U.S. Air Force civilian Joshua Smith, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 instructor pilot, drives a chase car on the flightline as U.S. Air Force Maj. Pritt, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, takes off in a U-2 Dragon Lady for his final flight at Beale Air Force Base, California. Chase car drivers communicate with the pilot through radio to ensure a safe landing. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Juliana Londono.) 

The airframe executes mission sets from the tactical realm to the strategic realm using the sensors it houses. U.S. Air Force Major Kelly, 9th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing weapons and tactics, is also one of the U-2 pilots at Beale.

“ASARS, or the advanced synthetic aperture radar sensor, uses radar energy to create an image of the target, making it an all-weather, day or night sensor,” said Kelly. “SYERS [Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System] is an electro-optical/infra-red imaging sensor that takes images in the visible and infra-red spectrum to capture ‘enhanced’ literal images. ASIP [Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload] is the standard signals intelligence sensor that collects and analyzes electronic signals emitted from a wide variety of targets.”

The U-2 meets both specific and broad imagery needs when collecting on adversarial activities, sending them the message of our watchful eye. The airframe’s presence, persistence, and flexibility causes adversaries to halt operations or resign themselves to give away their capabilities and activities.

“The U-2 employs at unmatched operational altitudes, which equates to unmatched sensor ranges from an airborne asset,” said Kelly. “Add a capable pilot connected to a remote ground crew with access to the wealth of knowledge from the intelligence community. This combination allows the U-2 to see further than any other airborne asset, and also quickly adjust collection based on real-time circumstances.”

The U-2 program at Beale AFB is comprised of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron (1RS) and the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron. The mission of the 1RS is to train all high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or ISR, aircrew for the U-2, and the 99th RS mission is to employ ISR capabilities in order to sustain U-2 operations worldwide. ISR is crucial to mission success in peace and war times.

 January 25, 2023 - U.S. Air Force Maj. Pritt, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 Dragon Lady pilot, prepares for landing during his final flight at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. The U-2 is a reconnaissance aircraft that can reach an altitude of about 70, 000 feet. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shaei Rodriguez.)
January 25, 2023 - U.S. Air Force Maj. Pritt, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 Dragon Lady pilot, prepares for landing during his final flight at Beale Air Force Base, California. The U-2 is a reconnaissance aircraft that can reach an altitude of about 70, 000 feet. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shaei Rodriguez.)

“ISR's importance as a capability is twofold,” said Kelly. “Before hostilities commence, ISR provides and updates the orders of battle that planners rely upon to understand the adversary and prepare for combat. Once combat operations begin, ISR is essential to finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, and assessing targets. ISR is the essential thread that finds, keeps custody of, and develops targets, and then judges how successfully the target was engaged.”

Beale has been home to the U-2 for over 50 years and to this day plays a critical role in meeting ISR needs of combatant commanders and various command national authoritie
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